The presence of millennials in the U.S. workforce is set to rapidly increase, according to a 2012 study from the University of North Carolina. Next year, millennials, usually defined as those born between the early 1980s and 2001, will comprise 34 percent of workers. By 2020, that number will jump to 46 percent.
Working alongside millennials will be baby boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964) and Generation Xers (usually defined as those born between the mid-60s to early 80s). While relations between the older and younger generations in some areas are healthy, in others, there's a real rift. For example, a recent study by The Hartford, a financial services group, showed that millennials resent some baby boomers for not retiring earlier, thus preventing millennials from getting hired or promoted. Meanwhile, the same survey showed 74 percent of Gen Xers agreed that the "entitlement generation" is an appropriate nickname for millennials.
While some resentment may last, there are ways millennials, also known as Generation Y, can grow from having a quality relationship with their senior co-workers. We've detailed some below.
Be a good listener. Lending your ear can pay dividends, especially if you've run into a problem that your knowledge can't resolve. Also, don't perceive seeking advice as an admission of weakness or inexperience. "It doesn't mean that you're not fully capable of executing on your own, but getting diverse perspectives at any age is always going to be valuable to your success," says Lindsey Pollak, a millennial generation expert and author of "Getting from College to Career."
Strike up a mentorship. Your company may have a mentorship program that matches up employees from different generations. Or you can take a less formal route and find one or two senior co-workers to regularly chat with over coffee or lunch. Through these interactions, millennials can get "a leg up in terms of the ability to learn about the culture of the company, the ins and outs of the politics that are going on [and] general business etiquette," says Lisa Orrell, a California-based consultant who specializes in generational dynamics in the workforce. Fortunately, many millennials like the idea of a mentor. MTV's 2012 "No Collar Workers" survey showed that three-fourths of millennials would like to have a mentor and eight out of 10 want feedback from their boss.
Recognize the experience older generations have on your peers. Orrell warns about the perils of only interacting with co-workers in your age bracket, or as she phrases it, staying in the "millennial cocoon." "You don't expand your horizons," she says. "It's hard to learn how to be an effective leader, manager, communicator [and] how to work in high-pressure situations if you're only making your workforce peer group people who are the same age as you." Increasingly, Gen Yers are aware and appreciative of the exhaustive résumé a more senior colleague may have. According to The Hartford survey, 90 percent of millennials agree that baby boomers bring substantial experience and knowledge to the workplace.
Appreciate the values of baby boomers. According to Meredith Wells-Lepley, director of research and consulting at the University of Kentucky's Institute for Workplace and Innovation, boomers "are known to be really hardworking and really loyal to their organization." EY, the professional services firm formerly known as Ernst & Young, conducted a generations survey of 1,215 company professionals throughout the U.S in June. The survey found that managers and non-managers from all three generations gave boomers high marks for being hardworking (73 percent) and team players (56 percent). By contrast, millennials scored highest in three out of four negative traits in the survey, including being most difficult to work with (36 percent) and entitled (68 percent).